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Utopia for Realists

And How We Can Get There

By Rutger Bregman
16-minute read
Audio available
Utopia for Realists: And How We Can Get There by Rutger Bregman

Utopia for Realists (2016) is a call to arms for a radical rethinking of life, work and how society functions. It argues that the world enjoys unprecedented wealth and material comfort but is still full of problems, from soul-destroying jobs to inequality and poverty. We have the power to solve these problems and build a better future if we embrace utopian thinking.

  • Blue-sky thinkers
  • Socially engaged people who want to eradicate poverty 
  • Frustrated citizens who feel there must be a better way to organize our society and economy

Rutger Bregman is a Dutch historian, author and internet sensation. His 2017 TED Talk “Poverty isn’t a lack of character; It’s a lack of cash” has been viewed 2.7 million times, and he was catapulted to internet fame by a clip of him at the 2019 Davos conference criticizing billionaires about taxation. A renowned advocate of Universal Basic Income, Bregman has published four other books in Dutch.

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Utopia for Realists

And How We Can Get There

By Rutger Bregman
  • Read in 16 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 10 key ideas
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Utopia for Realists: And How We Can Get There by Rutger Bregman
Synopsis

Utopia for Realists (2016) is a call to arms for a radical rethinking of life, work and how society functions. It argues that the world enjoys unprecedented wealth and material comfort but is still full of problems, from soul-destroying jobs to inequality and poverty. We have the power to solve these problems and build a better future if we embrace utopian thinking.

Key idea 1 of 10

Today’s world should be a paradise, but it’s leaving us strangely dissatisfied.

For most of human history, life was, as the famous philosopher Thomas Hobbes wrote, “poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” For centuries, the human experience changed little and was tough. 

According to estimates by historians, the average Italian earned around $1,600 in the year 1300. Six centuries later, after a passage of time that saw Galileo, Newton, the Enlightenment, the invention of printing, the steam engine and gunpowder, how much was that average Italian earning? Still $1,600. 

But in recent times, economic progress has occurred at an astounding pace. Today, the average Italian is 15 times as rich as in 1880. The global economy is 250 times the size it was before the Industrial Revolution. Things are now moving so fast that the price of a single watt of solar power has dropped by 99 percent since 1980. 

As a result, in just the last century, billions of humans have reached a level of stability and comfort that would have seemed utopian to our counterparts throughout history. 

After centuries in which hunger was a fundamental part of most humans’ lives, today, there are more people suffering from obesity than from starvation. We’re also safer – the murder rate in Western Europe, for example, is a full 40 times lower than in the Middle Ages, smallpox has been eradicated, and today, because less disease means fewer early deaths, the average life expectancy on the African continent is growing at a rate of four days every week. 

In addition, our grasp of technology is such that, to a visitor from the Middle Ages, it might seem as if biblical prophecies are coming to life: Consider the Argus II, a brain implant that restores some sight to people with genetic blindness. Or the Rewalk – robotic legs that are giving paraplegic people the power to walk again!

Secure, healthy and rich by any historical standard, we are living in paradise. So why does that feel so bleak, and why are so many people still dissatisfied with their lot? Maybe it’s that with so much wealth, we’ve forgotten how to dream big. Blinded by our consumer comforts, we’re no longer thinking about making life truly better. The moment has come to consider again what progress and living a good life in a time of material wealth really means.

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